The Privacy BlogPrivacy, Security, Cryptography, and Anonymity

CAT | National Security

NSA’s TAO — Dark Reading

The Internet has been buzzing with reports of the recently leaked NSA exploits, backdoors, and hacking / surveillance tools. The linked article is good example.

None of this should be news to anyone paying attention. Many similar hacking tools are available from vendors at conferences like BlackHat and DefCon.

We all know that zero-day exploits exist, and things like Stuxnet clearly show that governments collect them.

Intentionally introducing compromised crypto into the commercial stream has a long history, perhaps best demonstrated by the continued sales of Enigma machines to national governments long after it had been cracked by the US and others.

This reminds me of a quote I posted back in March. Brian Snow, former NSA Information Assurance Director said “Your cyber systems continue to function and serve you not due to the expertise of your security staff but solely due to the sufferance of your opponents.”

One can focus on making this difficult, but none of us should be under the illusion that we can make it impossible. If you have something that absolutely must be protected, and upon which your life or liberty depends, then you need to be taking drastic steps, including total air gaps.

For the rest of your activities, you can use email encryption, disk encryption, VPNs, and other tools to make it as difficult as possible for any adversary to easily vacuum up your information.

If you are of special interest, you may be individually targeted, in which case you should expect your opponent to succeed. Otherwise, someone hacking your computer, or planting a radio enabled USB dongle on your computer is the least of your worries. Your cell phone and social media activities are already hemorrhaging information.

Lance Cottrell is the Founder and Chief Scientist of Anonymizer. Follow me on Facebook and Google+.

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Bruce Schneier has a great post on issues with CALEA-II.

He talks about two main issues, with historical context.

First, about the vulnerabilities that automated eavesdropping backdoors always create in communications, and how that disadvantages US companies.

Second, about the fact that law enforcement claims of communications “Going Dark” are absurd given the treasure trove of new surveillance information available through social media, and cloud services (like gmail).

I know I have talked about this issue a lot over the years, but I am shocked that I can’t find any posts like it on this blog.

Bruce does it really well in any case.

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The FBI in conjunction with the Bureau of Justice Assistance and Joint Regional Intelligence Center have produced a number of fliers to help the public identify possible terrorists. While some of the points have merit, it is very likely that this will generate an extremely high proportion of false alerts based on perfectly reasonable and legal behaviors.

A big red flag for me were the fliers for cyber cafes and electronics stores. These suggest that the use of privacy protecting services, like Anonymizer, should be deemed suspicious. They also call out Encryption, VoIP, and communicating through video games.

In almost all of the fliers they suggest that wanting to pay cash (legal tender for all debts public and private) is suspicious.

Thanks to Public Intelligence for pulling together PDFs of the documents.

Internet Cafe flier.

Electronics Store flier.

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Schneier on Security: Domain-in-the-Middle Attacks

Bruce Schneier on the real world effectiveness of a very simple domain name based man in the middle attack.

Here is a Wired article on the same issue showing how it was used to steal 20 GB of email from a Fortune 500 company.

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Matt Blaze analyzes why the widespread use of cryptography has had almsost no impact on our practical ability to do wiretaps and gather information under legitimate court orders. Not too technical and absolutely worth a read.

Matt Blaze: Wiretapping and Cryptography Today:

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Here is a really nice analysis of the recent security breach at Lockheed Martin. The short version is that is looks like their SecureID tokens got duplicated. This is almost certainly related to the security breach at EMC / RSA.

Digital Dao: An Open Source Analysis Of The Lockheed Martin Network Breach

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The EFF has an excellent article on eight reasons why government regulation of cryptography is a bad idea.

The short answer is: the bad guys can easily get it and use it anyway, and it will make security for the rest of us much worse (not including the big brother surveillance  and constitutional issues).

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This NYTimes article discusses a bill which the Obama administration is proposing to submit to congress. The general background of the bill is that evolving technology has made it more difficult for law enforcement to conduct effective wiretaps and other intercepts because much of the targeted communication now takes place on the Internet and is often encrypted.

The actual text of the proposed bill does not appear to be available, but the article lists the following likely requirements.

  1. Communications services that encrypt messages must have a way to unscramble them.
  2. Foreign-based providers that do business inside the United States must install a domestic office capable of performing intercepts.
  3. Developers of software that enables peer-to-peer communication must redesign their service to allow interception.

The first of these is similar to the CALEA law which requires telecommunications carriers to design their services to enable automated real time intercepts. While this generally sounds reasonable when “we” say it, the idea is more ominous when coming from some other governments.

The second of these feels uncomfortably familiar. See my past blog posts (and here)on the attempts of privacy hostile countries to require similar concessions from RIM.

The third proposal is completely outrageous. In effect it says that I may not speak in a way which is unintelligible to the wire tappers. As a colleague quipped “I am hiring Navajo code talkers.” This would require a back door be inserted in to cryptography tools. Experience shows that any crypto system with such a back door will be breached and then left vulnerable to the enormous number of criminal hackers on the Internet today.

In 1993 the US Government proposed a system called the “Clipper Chip” which would provide all encryption for personal computers, but to which the US Government would have back door access. This was a terrible idea then, it was widely ridiculed, and suffered a well justified death by 1996. This third proposal would be much worse. It is asking huge numbers of non-crypto experts to build back doors in to their systems. Frankly, the cryptography in most software is already badly broken in many cases. Something as subtle and complex as a secure and effective law enforcement back door would be far beyond their abilities and render currently poor security completely untrustworthy.

All this is not to mention the potential abuse by oppressive regimes, who will pounce on the capability to further crush dissent within their countries. Finally, it will be largely ineffective against serious threats. Very strong and easy to use cryptography is already available world wide, for free (GPG, ZPhone, TrueCrypt, etc.). This is a classic case of damaging the innocent while leaving the guilty and dangerous unaffected.

It seems to me that there is a pendulum swing to these things. Technology cuts both ways. Some times it favors the interceptor and some times it favors the communicator. In most ways the Internet has been a fantastic boon to law enforcement. Cloud computing, email hosts, social networking, open WiFi, and huge hard drive that encourage people to save everything all provide law enforcement with enormous amounts of information they could never have collected in the past.

It may not be shocking to anyone that there is no federal push to make that more difficult to access while pushing to enhance their ability to intercept encrypted communications.

All this is argument about a bill we have not seen yet. Let us hope that the furor that has swirled around it will cause it to be retraced or modified significantly before it is actually delivered to congress.

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In a recent post on Privacy Digest, and an article in the NYTimes, there is a discussion of some major and well known vulnerabilities in the global public key infrastructure (PKI) and some examples of exploitations of that vulnerability.

The issue is with the proliferation of certificate authorities on the Internet, and the low level of oversight on their policies.

Using the web as an example, here is how it works. Embedded in every browser is a list of “certificate authorities”. These are companies that are deemed trustworthy to issue and sign website certificates. Website certificates are what allows websites to be authenticated by your browser and enables SSL based secure connections (e.g. to your bank).

These certificate authorities may also be able to delegate their certificate signing authorities to other secondary certificate authority organizations. The list of primary certificate authorities in your browser is long (I count 43 in my copy of Firefox), and who knows how many secondary certificate authorities may be out there. These certificate authorities exist all over the world, and any of them can issue a certificate that your browser will accept as valid.

A malevolent certificate authority could issue certificates to allow them to impersonate any secure website.

The articles talk specifically about a secondary certificate authority called Etisalat, located in the UAE. They created a certificate which allowed them to sign code which would be accepted as valid and authorized by BlackBerry cell phones. They then created and distributed software to about 100,000 users which enabled government surveillance of the devices. RIM, the maker of BlackBerry, was able to detect and patch this introduced back door.

Etisalat could create certificates to allow the UAE to intercept and read all secure web traffic traveling over networks within that country.

It is likely that there are many other certificate authorities that are similarly willing to compromise the security of the PKI for various ends. To date, no action has been taken against Etisalat. The EFF is calling for Verizon to revoke Etisalat’s ability to issue certificates (Verizon is the primary authority that delegated to Etisalat as the secondary).

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Read this post from IntelFusion. It makes a very strong case for why I worry about any privacy system run by operators you can’t really trust, investigate, and verify. In this case it is an investigation of Glype servers. They can be configured to do significant logging, and the author has been able to remotely retrieve the logs from many of the Glype servers. The results show many users from within sensitive US Government organizations and would provide the ability for an attacker to gather all kinds of useful intelligence to find soft targets to exploit.

On the personal privacy side, it is an easy way for attackers to intercept usernames, passwords, travel plans, personal information and more for use in, identity theft, burglary, and hacking among other things.

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